Although a third of people in England don’t drink coffee at all, it has become one of the most popular drinks in recent years. Around two-thirds of people drink instant coffee at home, and 80% of people visit a coffee shop at least once a week. People who drink coffee, enjoy an average 2 cups a day. Today this results in millions of coffee jars being sold each year, and more millions of disposable coffee cups being used, along with huge profits for the big coffee chains. Also read about coffee brands that make a difference.
Yet it’s perfectly possible to drink a kinder cup of coffee, which supports local artisans and growers of coffee beans in developing countries. In this post, you’ll even discover how to help songbirds, homeless people and ex-offenders, through which brand of coffee you buy. It’s also good to support local indie coffee shops, and greener ways to drink coffee (from compostable coffee pods to reusable coffee filters). And ethical coffee is only so, if served with plant milk and organic sugar.
What is Coffee?
Hannah Cole for Whistlefish
A silly question, perhaps? But how much do you actually know about the cup of coffee that you enjoy each morning? Coffee comes from roasted beans, always grown in hot areas of earth like Central & South America or Africa. Always choose shade-grown coffee, as this is the only type that can be grown without chemicals, and not only supports songbird habitats, but enables farmers to grow other crops at the same time, which they can then sell at market for extra income. Choosing organic coffee also means the farmers are more comfortable not wearing protective clothing in hot weather (and it’s safer for them, the planet and surrounding wildlife).
Enjoyed in England since the 17th century, coffee became popular when William Dean Howells wrote his essay on ‘Italian Journeys’. Earlier in the 1600s, a group of English women protested against the drink, saying that ‘coffee made men as unfruitful as the deserts!’ They complained also that coffee made men too talkative: ‘They sup muddy water and murmur insignificant notes, till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at gossiping!’
Zero waste packaging is difficult for coffee, as you have to find ways to stop oxygen getting in, or the bags will explode. Compostable packaging made from eucalyptus trees has its own issues (the trees are flammable and have been causing wildfires in Portugal). So for now, best practice is to buy loose coffee at zero waste shops or brands in easy-to-recycle packaging. If you choose decaffeinated coffee, choose brands that use the Swiss Water process (rather than chemicals).
The main coffee chain in England is Costa Coffee, which roasts its coffee in a giant warehouse in Essex. Although the beans are sustainable, there is not much information on where the company sources its milk and sugar, and many people choose to avoid the chain due to being owned by Coca-Cola, which funds cruel rodeos in the US.
Want to support artisan brands instead? There are many local companies that buy the beans and roast them here, to provide jobs and lower ‘coffee miles’:
Avoid caffeine for heart problems, anxiety and insomnia (check with GP if on medication). NHS recommends pregnant/nursing women drink no more than 200g of caffeine daily (1 mug of filter coffee). Or give it up completely at this time. Nobody should drink more than 4 cups of coffee a day!
- Durham Coffee Co names coffees after local saints, like St Cuthbert.
- Coldblow Coffee (Kent) is from the tropics of south east England!
- Union Coffee (London) has a subscription coffee club.
- Horsham Coffee Roaster uses a low-emission roasting process.
If you are buying coffee in health stores, the best brand is likely Clipper Coffee, made with fair trade organic beans and sold in sustainable packaging (the range includes Swiss-Water decaffeinated coffee).
Alpaca was named best eco-coffee by BBC Good Food Magazine. The tagline ‘awkward’ comes from a small company not afraid to ask awkward questions about where coffee is sourced or packaged. Deliveries include seeded postcards, only plant wildflowers in pet-free areas (most are toxic – see how to make your garden safe for pets.
Coffee beans are grown in some of the poorest areas on earth, and also has issues with packaging (both plastic and eucalyptus fibres that can cause wildfires if planted en-masse to keep up with demand. Buying coffee direct from the farmers, means a good deal and a fair wage. And the packaging is all compostable and plastic-free.
Each pack is illustrated with Alan, a friendly alpaca! If you don’t already know, alpacas are the national animal of Peru. They have long fine hair, whereas llamas have a coarse wool coat. Llamas also have longer ears, and are more likely to spit at you! The range (any ‘milk chocolate’ is just a flavour, not milk!) includes:
- Colombia Mustafa (strawberry jam, vanilla, chocolate)
- Colombia Mustafa Decaf (honeycomb, caramelized pear, cocoa)
- Four Left Feet (chocolate truffle, brown sugar, toasted nut)
- Brazil Fazenda Cetec (peanut butter, caramel, milk chocolate)
- Errrm (almond brittle, white chocolate, dried apple)
- Not a Reindeer (Christmas pudding, chocolate glaze, candied citrus)